I Like To Move It, Move It


“Hot damn, we have a money-tree!” I shrieked after David told me the high valuation our sod landscape crew had attached to the Japanese maple growing inside a barrel next to our back patio.

“No, a money-tree is something that gives you money. This is likely going to cost us money. Especially now that I know it’s value and it’s age. I can’t in good conscience just hack it down so we can extend the patio.” he replied, snapping a few tiny dead branches off one side. “Plus, it’s a really gorgeous tree. We owe it to this tree to try and figure out a better solution.”

“I’m telling you, it’s a money tree– we can sell it!” I responded, getting excited at the prospect of having a couple grand to finish off the backyard projects with.

“How the hell would we do that? Can you Craigslist a tree that’s firmly rooted in your yard? I don’t think people do that.” he argued.

“Um, I’m not trying to sell one of my kidneys. I just need to figure out the actual street value of this tree so I can drum up some business.” I stated, obviously over-confident in my horticultural sales abilities, but excited nonetheless.

“Yeah, when you say things like ‘street value’ and ‘drum up business’ you make this whole thing sound like some shady enterprise.”

“Well it IS shady! It’s a wide-canopy tree! Get it? Tree? Shade?” I burst out laughing and David just groaned and went back inside the house. He was clearly overwhelmed by my tree-mendous wit! Ha! Yeah, ok, I’m done now.


However, I did agree with him that chopping down this beautiful quarter-century old beauty was not an option. Though in need of a serious haircut, it’s tiny, delicate leaves turned the most intense shades of orange and red in autumn. And in spring and summer they were a verdant green. Just gorgeous.

And also very 1960’s era-appropriate. Because of their symmetry and ability to be shaped and manicured, Japanese maples were a popular part of midcentury landscaping concepts. It was a perfect fit for the Retro Ranch.

But there was no getting around the fact that the placement of it was incredibly poor. The tree was purchased sometime in the early 90’s by the original owners, plunked down right next to the patio in it’s wooden barrel container, and never moved again. Now its mature and lush canopy blocked our entire view of the backyard from the patio sliders. And this meant not being able to see the dogs when they went out at night.

Or the skunks.

Or the dogs chasing the skunks.

And I think we all know how that one ended up.


So when selling it didn’t pan out (because even guys who own proper excavation tools still want you to pay them to remove something valuable from your yard that may or may not stay alive once it’s unearthed) I got to work on researching the only other thing I could think of: How To Move a Tree.

Do people move 25 year old trees? And how much does something like that cost? This was definitely new territory for me, since we spent most of our adult lives residing in urban condos where the “backyard” was an oversized balcony with plastic indoor/outdoor carpeting and a few wilting plants.

But I came across a few arborists in the Portland area who seemed interested in the challenge, and spent the next two weeks meeting with them to determine the details of this highly questionable project. And as it turned out, the cost of moving this tree was far less than the value of the tree itself. But there’s of course the risk that it may not survive. And if a dead tree is going to be the eventual outcome, you might as well just dig a hole and dump a sack of your hard-earned money right into it.

We also only had a few weeks left where this could be successfully accomplished before the tree started to bloom. Otherwise we would have to wait another 6 months. Oh hell no. This thing was not going to be blocking my view all summer– especially since we just finished having the entire yard sodded. I definitely wanted to gaze upon every damn blade of money-soaked grass in that backyard whilst sipping lemonade on the patio.

So we called Vista Tree Service to set the date, and picked a new spot on the property. And of course this spot was waaaay up in front, which meant this 400 lb. tree would have to go around the house, across the driveway, over the marble-chip edging, and up on to the front lawn. This should be interesting.

The day before the big move, David pried off the wooden barrel framework that was close to choking the life out of this tree and discovered that the roots had grown into a weird and unsightly barrel-shaped block of solid wood. That’s going to have to go underground.

We also had one shot at picking it’s ‘good side’ in the new location, because as the arborist and his assistant began slowly excavating, we discovered the root system on this beast had also pushed it’s way right through the barrel and spread out in the ground underneath, making it more cumbersome to move and reposition.

It took some delicate excavation work that resembled more of an archeological dig, but the Vista Tree Service guys were absolute pros and they got that tree out of the ground in less than 90 minutes! They gently wrapped it and balanced it on a gigantic dolly, slowly making their way to the front yard, inch by inch. Once they got it next to the hole, they tipped it off the dolly, shimmied it into place, watered and fertilized it. Done and done.

I was definitely impressed.

Now all it had to do was survive the next three seasons and we would know if it lived through the shock of relocation. It was a little frightening in the fall, when the leaves didn’t turn their usual brilliant colors, but instead just shriveled up and dropped off. Not a great sign. And during the winter, weight from a record-breaking Portland snowfall nearly destroyed the branches. David went out every few hours to brush heavy snow off the frozen, drooping tree, attempting to protect our struggling investment.

I thought for sure it was a goner and we would have to dig a dead tree out of our lawn once spring arrived.


But the quiet determination and resilience of this tree amazed us both when just a few short weeks ago we began to see tiny leaf buds. And now, in full spring bloom, it’s beautiful canopy adorns the front lawn of the Retro Ranch as if it had always been there. It also provides much needed shade from the blazing summer sun that attempts to scorch our grass into straw every year. And that shade means considerably less reseeding, fertilizing and watering for us.

See? Money tree indeed.


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